How do I get things done? I find a way.
As a politician I’m often asked how things get done. My job as Mayor isn’t to debate policy or score points with political opponents, it’s about bringing people together to get things done.
So when I see pictures of myself digging up some earth for Transmission Dynamics’ new factory, or cutting a ribbon in Verisure’s new offices for 600 people, or handing a certificate to a school student for their success in our climate education programme, it’s always slightly surreal. Thankfully my kids’ sarcastic wit is only too good at bringing me back down to earth when I get home!
You’ve probably seen pictures of me and my fellow regional leaders signing the new expanded devolution deal for the North East. It’s been years in the making, and I’m over the moon that it’s worth so much more than other English devolution deals. £38 million for West Yorkshire, £38m for West Midlands, £30m for Manchester. We’ve negotiated £48m for the North East. And that’s just the core investment budget.
Including transport, housing and adult education, it’s £1 billion in the first three years. And that will increase. This month alone our North of Tyne team has secured an additional £4.2 million we’re using to provide free training courses, and over £15 million for investment across the North East on port infrastructure, creative industries, and housing.
Like the rest of Britain, austerity has wreaked havoc here. Our public services are crying out for investment and fair wage settlements. I work closely with the other mayors – there’s unity in strength. But my job is to represent the people who elected me, here. I said in my manifesto I’d try to bring the North East together so we could get transport devolved, and we’re one step closer.
Closer – the deal signing with Michael Gove fixed the contents of the deal, but the public and our councils now get their say – check the council websites. Journalists keep asking me if I’m interested in continuing as Mayor, over the new, larger area. Yes I am, but it’s inappropriate to launch a campaign before we know the results of the public consultation.
Getting this far has been far from plain sailing, mind. Last year saw a dizzying merry-go-round of Ministers and Prime Ministers in Whitehall – I’ve had colds that lasted longer than some of ‘em!
I recall the Thursday when Boris Johnson (remember him?) resigned last July, I was in London. By the Saturday morning I was speaking to Greg Clark, the incoming Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities, making sure our devolution deal didn’t get shelved in all the chaos.
Our council leaders must have lost count of the hours of meetings and discussions they’ve had to get this far. We’ve collectively met with Michael Gove (sacked & reappointed), and before him Neil O’Brien (resigned) and before him Luke Hall (dropped in reshuffle). Newcastle leader Nick Kemp was adamant that we must have a stronger settlement if Durham were to join the deal – out of which we secured Trailblazer status.
I’ve lost count of the meetings I’ve had with Treasury ministers and Transport ministers to ratchet up the amount of funding we’re getting. And with Education ministers to get child poverty prevention in the deal. None of that gets reported – there will never be a headline “Politicians inch closer to agreement in technical meeting about obscure funding streams”. Sometimes it means getting in a room with someone you fundamentally disagree with on 80% of things, just to find the 20% of common ground that unlocks a solution.
And of course, the politicians are in the photos, but there’s a team of people behind us. My North of Tyne team have been exemplary – helping deliver so much already in my first term, in spite of the Covid pandemic. Reams of documents, folders of spreadsheets – reality is so different from political TV shows.
In this role you don’t have the luxury of walking away from negotiations, you have to find solutions. If you don’t solve the problems, the public will rightly punish you for it.
So, when I’m asked ‘how do I get things done?’ The answer is simple: I find a way.